Ellen McIlwaine was born in Tennessee and moved with adoptive missionary parents to Japan when she was only two. Exposed to everything from Japanese Folk and Classical Music, American Rhythm & Blues greats like Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Professor Longhair on Japanese radio, as well as the Grand Ole Opry and European Classical Music on American Armed Forces Radio, while growing up in an International Community of families from India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia, she was playing "World Music" before it was called World Music!
After starting out on Acoustic Guitar in Atlanta Georgia while attending Art School, she moved to Greenwich Village in 1966, opening for many Blues Greats, and getting to know Odetta, Richie Havens, Mississippi John Hurt & Jimi Hendrix to name but a few. Moving to Woodstock NY in 1968 and recording Fear Itself with her group of the same name, but going solo again in 1970, she gained cult status through her two Polydor albums "Honky Tonk Angel" 1972 and "We the People" 1973. These were followed by "The Guitar Album", a compilation of all the guitar players on Polydor in 1974: Link Wray, Rory Gallagher, John McLaughlin, Roy Buchannan et al. Ellen was the only female player.
In Montreal 1975 she recorded "The Real Ellen McIlwaine" with members of the Ville Emard Blues Band and in 1978 "Ellen McIlwaine" came out on United Artists featuring the beautifully written tunes of Rawn McKinnon and Alan Gerber but with none of Ellen's guitar or musical input. By the end of that year she had begun to venture into the realm of Electric Guitar with the Guild Solid Body given to her by Guild Guitars. In 1980 she began touring with a bassist and drummer as an Electric Power Trio and in 1982 "Everybody Needs It" was released featuring Jack Bruce on bass & vocals, Paul Wertico on drums. She toured Australia in 1980 & '84 as part of Honky Tonk Angel Productions with Margret RoadKnight, and in 1987 recorded "Looking For Trouble" in Toronto where she took up residence, absorbing the Reggae influences of Toots & the Maytals and various other Jamaican acts coming through Toronto. Also in 1987 she became a permanent resident of Canada, continuing to play the thriving Blues Club Circuit and Canadian Music Festivals and touring with Guitar Hero Johnny Winter in 1990.
In 1997 Ellen created a live musical score for the Tom Cone play "True Mummy", drawing on Egyptian and Lebanese traditional dance music and the inspiration of the great Pakistani singer Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It distilled itself into her popular original "Egyptian Blues". She completed two film scores, one in Germany about the history of rockets and one in Canada called "Confessions of a Snake Killer", and appears on the "Celebration of Blues" Collector Series for Stony Plain Records. She also makes guest appearances on various other artists' CDs.
In 1998 she was featured in the Bravo documentary "A Slide Through Time" and in 1999 she played the Women in (e)motion Festival in Bremen Germany with Leo Valvassori on bass and Randall Coryell on drums. Their performance was recorded live and released that year as "Women in (e)motion/Ellen McIlwaine. In 2000 "Spontaneous Combustion" was released by the same label, featuring Taj Mahal on two cuts and his Rhythm Ambassadors, Bill Rich and Kester Smith on bass and drums. Ellen toured toured Germany, Switzerland & Austria several times with Taj Mahal & his Hawaiian Blues group, as well as solo and with Bill & Kester's backing.
In 2001 she collaborated with Japanese Electronica Wizard, Shinichi Osawa of Mondo Grosso on "Don't Let Go" for which she wrote the melody and words. Then in 2002 after Yukihiro Fukutomi's re-mix of Ellen's "Born Under a Bad Sign", and despite a throat infection, "Live at Yellow" was recorded in Tokyo with Bill and Kester again, and Kayoko Kimura on saxophone. Both were released on Soul Source/Polydor/Universal/Japan. She toured solo with DJ Ken Yanai of Soul Source as part of the DJ show at Dance Clubs across Japan. In 2003 she again took up her battered Acoustic Guitar to tour New Zealand and Australia on the bill once again with chanteuse extrordinare, old friend Magret RoadKnight. She wrote and performed the lyrics & melody for "Reflections" featured on Robb Scott's "Afro Odessey". In 2004 she began a collaboration with the great tabla player Cassius Khan, touring Canadian Music Festivals & Theatres with the new material. Ellen recorded "Mystic Bridge" featuring Cassius along with Linsey Wellman on soprano sax and Amika Kushwaha on harmoniums and released it in 2007 on her own label Ellen McIlwaine Music. That same year she appeared with Robbin Thompson, formerly of Bruce Springsteen's band, rollicking together through Robbin's "Where You've Never Been (The Zhong Song)" featured on his latest album "just a blur in the rearview".
In 2008 she toured with Patty Larkin's La Guitara ensemble in the US and in 2009 & 2010 in Canada with Sue Foley's Guitar Women, also appearing solo at various US & Canadian Venues & Festivals. In 2011 she began work on her upcoming autobiography, continuing to tour & experiment with new material. In March of 2013 Ellen was flown to Los Angeles to be interviewed as part of the new Jimi Hendrix documentary film "Hear My Train A Comin'" which was released in November 2013. With fewer festival opportunities and dwindling venues, Ellen has started a second career as a School Bus Driver to fill the gaps between concerts! Also in November 2013 she celebrated thirty one years clean & sober. Life is good!